Cypress Hill's career has a lot to teach newcomers about how a veteran act can hold onto a devoted fan base even after the hits stop coming, radio play dries up, and its signature sound grows old and self-cannibalizing. In a cutthroat industry, Cypress Hill has managed to avoid commercial obsolescence by touring constantly and actively courting the skateboard, metal, Spanish, and alternative crowds as its recorded output has grown increasingly irrelevant.
The disappointingly skimpy 12-song Cypress Hill best-of Greatest Hits From The Bong documents the cannabis enthusiasts' lengthy career, from the blunted glory of their first two albums to the shrug-inducing, trend-chasing mediocrity of their recent work. Cypress Hill arrived in the early '90s with a style that anticipated RZA's gloomy cinematic soundscapes while reveling in the pot-scented paranoia, bad vibes, and naked aggression of West Coast gangsta rap. B-Real's taunting nasal whine in particular sounds like the vocal analogue to Dr. Dre's signature synthesizer lines, while sidekick Sen Dog chipped in with complementary blasts of thuggish belligerence. Cypress Hill perfected its sound on classic early singles included here, like "How I Could Just Kill A Man" and "Insane In The Brain," which begins with solid grooves, then adds layers of nightmarish texture and creepy atmosphere.
Producer DJ Muggs took on a less densely complicated style as the years flew by, while B Real and Sen Dog failed to evolve in their rhyming. Like so many best-ofs, Bong grows increasingly less essential as it lurches toward the finish line. And though Hits provides a decent overview of the group's career, it's probably wise that it doesn't boast one of those hopeful, often-delusional "Volume One" designations that jinx so many artists. Even Cypress Hill seems to realize that it can't keep peddling the same stale sonic shake forever.